Tag Archives: food & drink

More about coffee

george clooney-nespresso

More writing about the value of handmade coffee (vs. those automated Nespresso capsule machines) to follow on my earlier post about Specialty Coffee.

It is not that handmade is always best, of course. Much technology is itself a testimony to human creativity and ingenuity. Apple has got very rich through supplying technology that is beautifully designed by humans who are as gifted as the best artisans. There is plenty that we should happily allow to be mechanised, for the obvious benefits that brings. But there is plenty else we will continue to prefer to be handmade, because what matters is not just the result, but the process by which you get there. Humans are imperfect, and so a world of perfection that denies the human element can never be truly perfect after all.

- from Coffee Artisans

* More George Clooney endorsements over on my Celebrity Endorsements gallery

Golden_gai

The Long Now Bottle Keep

As I grow older, I have come to appreciate the power of stories. I collect them as I go through life, sometimes seeking out experiences because a good story may come out of it.  I was invited this past week to join the staff of The Long Now Foundation to share a story that I have been telling for years but never took the time to add to this blog.

Back when I was living in Tokyo, I had a several university mates that stopped by to visit. Like any host living overseas, I had gotten things pretty well wired where I could suss out what they wanted to see and could arrange from a number of “module” walks that could be strung together to make for an interesting day. But there was one visit, by an old fraternity brother, that really stood out. Mike was legendary for living life to the hilt, his laugh was infectious and he always went for the most extreme just to see what it was like. While most people traveled through Europe in between high school and college, Mike went to Africa. He was that kind of guy.

When Mike said he was coming to Tokyo, I of course planned an epic evening of carousing. We started at Shimokitazawa at around 4 pm and hit Ginza, Shibuya, Harajuku, and finally, at around 2am, stumbled into Shinjuku where I planned to show him Golden Gai. It’s hard to describe this area except to say it’s about the size of a city block but houses over 200 tiny little bars piled all up on top of each other. It’s been described as Ridley Scott’s inspiration for the street vendor scene in Blade Runner if you want to put an image into your mind. The place hasn’t changed since the war and each bar there has it’s own story and storied clientele.

Remember, it’s 2am and Mike and I have been drinking since the afternoon so we’re basically stumbling around leaning on each other but I feeling good, knowing whichever bar we pick it’s going to be weird. In a good way. I’d been here several times and each time, it’s kind of like a Disneyland for adults. Go into one bar and you might meet a bunch of John Wayne fans where the bar stools are saddles, the drinks are burbon, and music is strictly C&W. Hit another place and it’s all old Zero fighter pilots drinking sake and telling tales from the war. Another place is a haunt for movie buffs that have a weakness for Fellini. Each bar is tiny, they only have 6-10 seats so they are real cozy. But in the wonderful openness of Japan, each bar will welcome anyone that joins them with the proper deference and curiosity.

So I was feeling pretty good and turned fate over to Mike. I slurred out to him to, “Pick any one you’d like, they’re all fantastic in their own way!” and asked him to choose where to go. He spun on a heel and waved his left arm and pointed to some rickety stairs that went up the side of corrugated steel, painted a shade of faded blue.

We made our way up the stairs and stumbled through the door into a place that was amazingly elegant compared to the jumble outside. It was dark but lighting under the bar and via colored sconces on the wall gave the place a very sophisticated feel. There was some jazz playing, something like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue – very cool. There was only one other patron, off in the corner with his whiskey and the “master” or owner of the bar. He’s there, beard and glasses, slowly polishing a shot glass with a linen napkin.

Mike & I stumble in and made a bit of ruckus but quickly quieted down and settled into the open seats in front of the bartender. He keeps looking at me, slowly studying my face over his glasses. Finally he says,

“Moshikashitara, Kennedy-san no musuko jyanaidesuka,” which is the basically, “If I’m not mistaken, you’re Kennedy’s son aren’t you?”

I look up, incredulous. How does this guy know me? And my father? I have been to a few bars around here but have no recollection of this place. He tells us to wait a minute and then goes into a back room where we hear the clinking and clanking of bottles. He returns holding a bottle aloft like a prize-winning catch. It’s a whiskey bottle with about 1/3 left in it and as he places it on the counter I can see my handwriting on the side of it.

It all comes back to me then. A couple of nights before I went away to boarding school, leaving my parents at 13 to fly halfway around the world to Concord, Massachusetts, my father took me to this bar to have a drink with his son. He bought a bottle and we wrote our names on the side and, as is the tradition in most Japanese bars, the owner would then keep it there for us whenever we returned. This is the Japanese tradition of “bottle keep.” Only in this case, I had not been there in over 10 years and not only had the bartender somehow recognized me, he also had been hanging on to this bottle in case either my father or myself would return.

It was at that moment that my friend Mike fell off his chair. He could not believe that such a thing was possible. That you could have a relationship with an establishment over such a long arc. The funny thing about this story is that the bar was called “Gu” which is the word for “closed fist” as in the closed-fist from scissors/rock/paper. Basically hanging on, determination.

So full circle back to The Long Now. A friend,  Mikl-em not only heard me tell this tale but remembered it as something that might interest the folks from The Long Now Foundation. Their mission is to help people think about the long term and one of their more famous projects is the 10,000 Year Clock which, if you don’t know about it, you must read more about as it will change your perspective on technology and human permanence.

The reason my Bottle Keep story is relevant is The Long Now Foundation is opening a Salon and will stock it with a special batch of gin distilled by the folks at St. George’s Spirits using juniper berries for the 5,000 year old bristle cone pines that happen to grow on the side of the mountain in Texas where they are building the 10,000 year clock. The idea is that for a donation, The Long Now Salon will hold your bottle for you on site so you can come at any time and enjoy it with your friends. As my sister says, “With bottle keep, no need to ‘buy’ someone a drink and all that implies.”

Help us build it… from The Long Now Foundation on Vimeo.

I’m happy to hear that they are bringing the bottle keep concept to San Francisco. It’s the perfect thing for The Long Now Foundation to do and they are going about it with the same sense of care and craftsmanship as they are with their other projects. Indeed, my visit was part of their learning. The staff took in my story and weaved in their own experiences and asked questions for more details. The conversation was relaxed and philosophical. It was a beautiful day outside and their offices in Fort Mason look out over the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate. We drank tea. Before I knew it, I had lost track of time and realized I had to get back to work.

Thank you Mikl-em and thank you Long Now folks for a wonderful afternoon.

Commis Restaurant

commis restaurant

As we were seated, we were offered a small bowl of stones with two, small toasted cheese treats covered in ash to look like the small pebbles on which they were arranged. When I asked the server what was put before us, “A bowl of rocks, sir” was the reply. More Amuse than Bouche.

We scored two of the six seats at the counter and were able to watch the open kitchen prepare meals. It was a small kitchen with six chefs working in close quarters, moving through their stations in a choreographed dance. The restaurant seats 31 and all the action takes place in the kitchen but in almost complete silence. Norah Jones hums quietly over the hi-fi but from the kitchen it’s all hushed reverence of the locally acquired ingredients.

Each of the six dishes of the fixed price meal (our menu for the evening) were prepared in front of us. Arranged is a better word.  Rhubarb confit was carefully plopped off a spoon with just the right flick of the wrist to give it the right consistency.  One was slightly off leaving a trail dripped off to the side, the chef winced, started over again. Each chef had a pair of tweezers tucked into a breast pocket on their grey apron which they would whip out to arrange flower petals or lightly fried mint leafs just so. Each dish was a beauty to behold.

It was like eating ikebana arrangements.

It was a fantastic meal, well worth paying extra for the wine pairings that brought a wide variety of interesting local wines to go with each dish.  After stints at Coi in San Francisco and Manresa in Los Gatos, head chef James Syhabout is back in his native Oakland (he went to Oakland Tech). Deservedly, Commis was awarded it’s first Michelin star after only four months of business and continues to attract people from across the Bay.

Commis Restaurant
3859 Piedmont Avenue
Oakland, CA 94611

A New Restaurant Gets Noticed – New York Times

My flickr photoset of the evening

Coke-Cola recipe

Coca-Cola’s Secret Recipe

Could this be Coca-Cola’s secret recipe? NPR’s weekly radio, This American Life, show dusts off an old newspaper article from 1979 which featured the photo scanned below.

On the episode (podcast), Ira Glass works with the folks at Jones Soda and tries to recreate the original recipe which includes things such as coriander and neroli oil. Fast Company has a post by the son of Charles Salter, the Georgia Rambler, who filed the original story and took the photo above for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Secret Coke Recipe on “This American Life?” My Dad Found That.

200-year old Champagne Preserved by Icy Baltic

Earlier this year it was reported that several cases of champagne were discovered in a shipwreck 55 meters under the Baltic Sea, off the small island of Åland near Finland. After tasting it, a local champagne expert suspected that the bottles were from Veuve Cliquot, the famous French maker established in 1772. Out of a total cargo of 172 bottles, 168 were recovered intact and in November, more experts were invited to Åland to recork several bottles and, in the process, confirm their identity. Jean-Hervé Chiquet, visiting in November is quoted in the New York Times today

He was “overcome with emotion,” he said, when he first tasted the Champagne at the recorking in November.

“There was a powerful but agreeable aroma, notes of dried fruit and tobacco, and a striking acidity,” Mr. Chiquet said by telephone. The oldest Champagne in Jacquesson’s inventory is from 1915, he said.

The Champagne was probably en route to the court of Czar Alexander II in St. Petersburg when the wooden cargo vessel sank. Though the exact age of the Champagne is not yet known, it goes up against tough competition in the oldest Champagne category.

The Champagne house Perrier-Jouët claims that its vintage of 1825 is the oldest recorded Champagne in existence. Mr. Hautekeur said Veuve Clicquot’s oldest drinkable bottle was from 1904.

It’s not clear how old these bottles are but markings on the cork, the shape of the bottles, and plates also found on the wreck puts them in the early 1800′s. Most of the champagne survived and is quite drinkable with the tiny bubbles still visible and the taste, “compared favorably to some of the best Champagnes today.” The total darkness of frigid waters off of Finland served as the perfect wine cellar.

The Family Gathering

1990gathering
1995gathering
1999gathering
2001gathering
2004gathering

While everyone was down in Austin for the annual gathering of the tribes, I sorted through an old box of photos trying to streamline my memories. I don’t have many prints anymore so most of what I found was from the last century (love saying that!). It was nice to actually hold the prints in your hand and put the best ones into a nicely bound album which is now in our living room.  A book full of memories on the living room coffee table? There’s a line that’s been crossed somewhere, somehow that sounds significant.

As I transformed a box full of random photos into piles that were roughly arranged by major life-events (pre-marriage, pre-first kid, pre-second kid), I noticed that at regular intervals there was a photo taken at my grandparent’s house in Yokohama where the family would gather for an annual feast. It’s cool to see how people have changed over time (check out my eraser-head hair doo in 1990!) and I love how we’re always hoisting the beers for the camera like we’re at a table in Munich.

Grandpa is always at the end of the table and would preside over everyone – always making sure my glass was full and telling stories of the old days. He worked hard through his life, the post-war Japanese econmy was built by his generation. He’s gone now, died almost three years ago to the day. My grandmother now lives in a nursing home so we don’t get together as a large group anymore.

Need to fix that next time I’m back home.

Practical Advice from the Pros, “Speaking With a Hangover”

Brett Tabke has been running the PubCon/Webmaster world conferences for as long as I remember and posts a great piece on how to give a great presentation. Since the main PubCon is always in Vegas, he also rounds it out with some sage advice on how to prepare ahead of time in anticipation of having to give your talk after a night of drinking.

 

  • Lay out your speaking attire the night before going out to a fun PubCon bash. Put your PowerPoint on a USB stick and put it in the pants pocket. Make sure you have cab fare and directions prepared if you are staying away from the conference hotel.
  • Pack some eye drops in your overnight bag for every conference. Use ‘em for the redness.
  • Light colored or clear alcohols are better. They have fewer byproducts. Milder hangovers.
  • Less than one drink an hour and skip the beer bongs, jello shots, and tequila twisters.
  • Fill up on as much food as possible while drinking. Multivitamins and especially Vitamin C are said to help some people.
  • Pain killers (aspirin tends to work better with hangovers).
  • Eat as soon as you think it will stay down.
  • Bland liquids – lots of water – caffeinate liberally – Gatorade if available.
  • Take a long hot – then cold shower.
  • Go last on your panel.
  • Warm climates like Vegas, make partying much easier than cold climates like – oh say – cold and windy Chicago.
  • Turn down the brightness on the presentation laptop then request the lights be lowered so people can see the screen better.
  • Buy a pair of lightly tinted sunglasses that look like real glasses.
  • Women – avoid high heels the day of your presentation. Men – clip on ties only.
  • If you expect a hangover, then bribe your chairman to put you last in the day very early on in the speaking selection process.